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Thu February 14, 2013
Where Y'Eat: Fishing Lessons at Horinoya
How faithful technique and a deep menu of traditional dishes set a longtime CBD sushi spot apart.
I am all too acquainted with the look of maternal concern and I thought I recognized it on the face of Mie Horimoto one night in the dining room of her downtown Japanese restaurant Horinoya (920 Poydras St., New Orleans, 504-561-8914).
I had asked for a dish called maguro yamakake, but my hostess counseled caution, explaining that “not a lot of people like that.”
I insisted, however, and soon learned why she tried to wave me off. The maguro part were chunks of raw tuna and that was familiar enough. The yamakake preparation, however, involves grating a Japanese yam into a gooey, frothy, sour porridge. It was like a stringy white film covering and coating the fish. I picked at the tuna with chopsticks but, with no spoon handy, I was satisfied to leave most of that liquid untouched. That’s when my hostess intervened, urging me to pick up the small bowl and just slurp it all down.
“It’s good for you!” she cheered, sounding now more maternal than ever.
I wouldn’t order maguro yamakake again, but I wasn’t exactly disappointed either. I’d come to Horinoya seeking dishes from outside the normal range of local Japanese restaurants, and this one hit the mark spectacularly. After all, here I am, still talking about it. It turns out that Horinoya is full of experiences like this, though the dishes that inspired future cravings far outnumber the oddities.
There was the smoked duck, for instance, its savory smokiness combining with the sweetened tartness of ponzu sauce. The raw oysters here get a dose of that ponzu, plus the bite of scallions and lemon. The strong flavor of black cod mellowed into a buttery succulence after that fish was broiled, while slices of marbled beef sizzled on a hot stone brazier we tended ourselves at the table. At the end was a bowl of ochazuki, a deeply restorative, palate-cleansing soup made from rice and green tea.
Mie and her husband, the sushi chef Komei Horimoto, have run Horinoya since 2001. That would be long enough to breed familiarity, if not for the way their adherence to traditional Japanese cuisine puts so many fresh revelations across Horinoya’s sprawling menu.
Sometimes these are striking, like orange-colored pads of monkfish liver, which are rich and velvety, like foie gras, but also with a marine-tinged creaminess. Other times the revelations are subtle but fundamental, especially concerning the sushi. The seaweed tastes warmly toasty. The rice is packed loosely so individual grains seem to dissolve in the mouth. And between the fridge and your table, the chef takes care to temper the fish, so, like fine cheese, the proper texture and flavor comes across. For a tour de force, order Horinoya’s version of chirashi sushi, a tightly clustered collection of sashimi and salads arranged over pressed rice like a bouquet.
The dining room at Horinoya is modern and linear, done in blond wood and blue neon. Farther back are the curtained-off tatami rooms, where guests remove their shoes and gather around low tables and the chef selects the courses himself. You need a group — and special reservations — to score a tatami room, but really any table at Horinoya offers front row seats to classic Japanese flavors.
920 Poydras St., New Orleans, 504-561-8914